Every now and then, a new client comes to me and says, “Okay, I’ve read all the self-help books. I’ve watched The Secret. I know every affirmation under the sky. My life still sucks. What can you do for me?”.
I absolutely love it when this happens.
When I hear this from a client, I’m internally saying, “All right! You want to do more than become an expert in the content of books and movies. You want to do more than consume information like it’s fast food. You want real change. You want what I call, epic self-transformation!“.
Then I say out loud, “Are you ready to rock?”.
Well, okay, I only rarely say that last part out loud.
To begin with, though, I want to emphasize that what I undertake with my clients is self-transformation, not “self-improvement”. This distinction is important, but I don’t want to go on about it just now. Suffice is to say, when you’re done here, check out the fabulous Danielle Laporte’s blog, “Why Self-Improvement Makes You Neurotic“, if you’re interested in why the notion of self-improvement is a sneaky, sneaky trap of the ego.
So how is epic self-transformation different from stuff like ‘positive thinking’?
Sustainability. Sustainability means something that can be maintained at a certain pace or level; it’s not temporary. It is not movement which stops and starts, but more like turning lead into gold – and more gold, and more gold, and more gold.
Encouraging sustainable transformation is the best way I know of help someone begin the process of recovering the promise of their life – the promise of who they are.
But this isn’t because I have magical powers (although I just might – you never know!).
Rather, what makes this process work – what makes it replicable, if you want to get all evidence-based about it – is this: we all have within us the answers, the questions, the road-map, the guidance system, the wisdom, and the LOVE to create a life that is as beautiful, delicious, and fulfilling as we can possibly imagine (and then some). Here’s why:
There is something within all of us that yearns towards expansion and change.
We can resist it if we want to (and boy, does this ever come back to bite us!).
Nevertheless, this is one of the most powerful, natural impulses of the human experience – and evolutionary biologists can tell you all about why if you really want to know! But no matter how you slice it – no matter how uncomfortable change makes us – we have built-in mechanisms for adaptation, expansion, evolution, and, yes, transformation.
So how do we leverage this natural inclination towards transformation – particularly when many of us are scared-to-piddling-in-our-pajamas at the slightest hint of change?
How many times have you read a book, listened to a wonderful teacher of meditation, yoga, mindfulness, present-moment thinking, etc.? How many times did you resolve to put into practice what you saw or heard, only to fizzle out after a week or three?
Visualizations, mantras, affirmations and positive “I” statements can be useful tools, when put to use in sustainable ways. However, simply rehearsing these over and over again when we really want something often produces limited results. We then get frustrated or discouraged, and soon drop these from our daily routine.
Rinse and repeat this process often enough, and you have a recipe for some deep cynicism about life.
Contrast this with cultivating sustainable changes in your approach to living. For example, I often encourage folks to examine their perspectives (not just their thoughts!). Thoughts spring from perspectives. Or, if you prefer:
Perspectives are the filters – the lenses – we apply to the incoming data of human experience.
Consider, too, that our perspectives are deeply rooted in the past, and you can see how leaving our perspectives unexamined causes us to get in our own way. How can we meet the present honestly…if we’re interpreting everything through the lens of the past?
Imagine that your thoughts are the software running on your computer, and your perspectives are like the operating system.
After awhile – with all the changes in technology, the volume of data streaming in, etc. – the software starts to malfunction. You can observe your software getting slower and more bogged down for as long as you like. But if you want to transform how the system fundamentally works, just attending to the software won’t get you where you want to go.
In other words, if we only observe our thoughts, it can take a lot longer to notice (if we ever do) that our perspectives – our operating system – desperately need to be updated!
Whenever I explore with a client their perspectives about life, work, relationships, etc., we discover that they’ve inherited some their most influential ideas about who they are, what’s important, what they believe, and what they have come to expect from life.
This is key: we don’t create our perspectives, we absorb them – from our families, from media, from social institutions like schools, churches, etc.
Very often, we discover that we’ve been carrying around incredibly influential perspectives in our noodles our whole lives – ones that we don’t even necessarily agree with!
Given that our perspectives are how we orient ourselves to what we experience, you can imagine how powerful it is to shift the amazing capacity of your conscious awareness to observing – gently and patiently – what perspectives are driving your thoughts, feelings, reactions, etc.
In other words, I encourage my clients to shift how they look at the world, rather than just tacking on a positive affirmation to the things that they are looking at. And this impacts on the whole life of a person – not just the things they want more of or less of in their lives.
Changing our perspectives in ways that are sustainable means raising our perspective, moment to moment.
What’s the pay-off for engaging in this kind of self-transformation?
For starters, in raising our perspective, we recover vital energy, insight, and capacity that we have previously squandered on worry, stress, drama, a personal victim-story, unhealthy relationships and co-worker dynamics, etc.
These unwanted, energy-sapping patterns of thinking can be powerfully made-over when we explore the perspectives that support them.
In addition, there is always, always something generous, something beautiful, something worthy of our notice and our gratitude in each moment. We simply have to re-train ourselves to look for it – because, yes, All Experience is Generous.
When we shift our perspectives, we notice that there are abundant resources, beautiful people, and accommodating circumstances all over the place – and this tranforms problems and challenges, difficulties and dramas…into opportunities.
Suddenly, we notice that change has become less terrifying – because we can see all of the things and people around us that are present to support our transformation. These are things we simply can’t see if we stay stuck in the perspectives we absorbed way-back-when.
But…by consciously aligning our perspectives with who we want to be in the world, we build a solid foundation for epic self-transformation that can utilize the resources that have shown up to support us now.
This is when we can really begin to leverage our human impulse to change.